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ARC Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Title: Seraphina
Story Arc: Series, Book 1
Publication: July 10, 2012 by Random House
Paperback: 464 pages
Genre: High Fantasy, Magic, Dragons, Coming of Age
Age Group: Teen, Young Adult
Content: Light Kissing, Fighting
(It's been a while since I've read this one.)
Source: Random House via NetGalley | Quote(s): Yes

I remember being born. In fact, I remember a time before that.

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina's tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they've turned the final page.
Dragons are cooler than they look
We all know that dragons are the shizz and more, right? I mean, THEY’RE DRAGONS. Hartman makes your average dragon look like a puppy compared to these bad boys she’s thought up. Because they’re not just freakishly tall, scary reptiles, but they’re also shifters who can shrink into humans. Emotionless, cold humans, from the looks of it, but that just makes them even more badass, because they have this cutthroat, merciless overtone to their personalities. And any dragons who start exhibiting our colorful emotions, giving in to the humanity that comes with becoming human, are packed off to have a kind of surgery done to remove them. Which is an exotic, intriguing concept for Hartman to play with throughout the book. She conveys, beautifully, I might add, the power of emotions, the significance of the ability to emote, and how the lack of it affects those who can’t, those who would rather bar the ability from themselves entirely than let it grip them.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman is fantasy, and no, it’s not necessarily you’re typical fantasy full of grueling quests, but rather it’s a murder mystery at heart, with knights and dragons and magic in the backdrop. War is brewing among the dragons, as the shaky alliance between them and the humans threatens to fall apart. The murder of a royal by what seems to be the hands—or rather, claws—of a dragon has caused a wide berth for tension to sweep through both races, mistrust and misdirected anger working to tear apart their cool friendship. Half-human half-dragon Phina now finds herself somehow directly involved, no matter that she’s doing her best to not only bury the very secret of her birth but also the consequences of her mixed nature. Throw in a good-looking suspicious prince into the mix and Phina’s got no choice but to help unearth the truth. Because someone out there wants to speed up the threat of war and turn it into an actuality, someone keen on vengeance and very, very, ticked off.

Characters, hidden abilities, and exciting world-building
Phina is exactly the kind of girl that leaves me hard-pressed to punch anybody who messed with her. All of her life she’s lived with the knowledge that she is not ONLY an abomination by most people’s standards but that if anyone were to find out the truth of her origins she’d be cast out, perhaps killed, and people would be disgusted to know what deformities lay beneath her clothing. She’s sober, sad, and vulnerable, and I have big sisterly/maternal urges toward characters without friends and with nothing but heavy burdens. She’s too scared to make proper friends, but she’s one of the smartest, most loyal people around if people would only pay her mind. I hated that her father, so lost and betrayed, never really comforted her of her worries, never made her feel truly at home. I was so depressed for this girl who has already gone through so much, and has a hard time caring and trusting people. And because of her we can relate to the dragons in a way that wouldn’t be possible without her!

Which is why I was so ecstatic when the determined, apprehensive Prince Lucien casts his suspicion onto Phina, and is just as equally intrigued by her. Hartman’s characters are rich, fleshed-out. Ultimately, Phina and Kiggs’s friendship, with underlying spark, turned out to be one of the major highlights of Seraphina by Rachel Hartman.

And the other? The fabulous in-depth world-building. In fact, it’s probably the strongest aspect of Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, how vivid and intricate it is. The plot isn’t nearly as involved as the world Harman sets up for us, and although it’s not without it’s twists, there is a level, if a small one, of predictability. As for the world-building, it’s impossible to really predict what you’re going to find, what sort of creatures and places. Add to that the beautiful prose and you have one hell of a novel. I felt absorbed by the world as opposed to being absorbed into it because of the rich, yet not overbearing, scenes that are painted for our benefit.

I wish I would’ve written this review sooner. I wish I had so that I could remember more details to present to you, so that I could’ve pushed this novel onto you sooner. You will feel rejuvenated after reading this unique fantasy, and fall in love with Seraphina, her logic, her compassion, her observation, all of it. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman enriches with its prose, and puts an exciting, thrilling spin on what you think you know about dragons.

From the looks of it, after being electrocuted by that subtly joyous, if open, ending, there will be a sequel, and it will chronicle a war that makes me bloodthirsty just pondering the possibilities. I can’t wait to see what Rachel Hartman does next!
He raised a hand, let it hover a moment, and then placed it over mine. It was war, and it stole my breath away. "St. Clare did not choose wrongly," he said softly. "I always saw the truth in you, however much you prevaricated, even as you lied right to my face. I glimpsed the very heart of you, clear as sunlight, and it was something extraordinary." (97%)
Rating: Perfect Bed Partner

Unbelievably, I was happily surprised by the unique fantasy presented in Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. It’s not all about magical quests and slaying beasts and saving people, necessarily, but there’s so much going on without being overwhelming. The plot is centered around an engrossing murder mystery that left me scrambling to try and fit the pieces together. And I wouldn’t have guessed the biggest twist of all as to who the villain is! The prose is beautiful, subtly woven, and Seraphina herself makes this novel well-worth the read. I’m already so invested in the romance and the war to come that I’m antsy for the sequel!

Got something specific in mind? Dare I believe I might NOT have covered something you wish to know? If so, let me know down in the comments section. Don't be shy!


Stephanie said...

Ack, this sounds so fantastic! I've been trying to read this for a few days now, but I've been in a MOOD so I've been hovering around 16% on my Kindle. I really need to stop getting distracted by shiny things on the internet and just give go all in because it sounds like a book I'd really love.

ALSO, where have I been?! The new layout looks so good!

elena said...

A MURDER MYSTERY? And dragon shape shifters within a fantasy? I'm so in! I heard this book was really good and it sounds like one I would really enjoy. I love that the world-building is so in depth, that's always necessary for a good fantasy. Wonderful review!

Sam @ Realm of Fiction said...

Every single review I have read for this book has been positive. Clearly, there's a reason for that and it makes me want to give this book another shot! I had trouble getting into it at the start and sort of gave up - but a lot of people have convinced me that it gets better so I'm willing to try it again one day. Plus you've listed Shadow & Bone and Throne of Glass as similar titles - both of which I LOVED. I hope I can love this one too. ;) Great review, Asher!

Liz @ Planet Print said...

Dude, I love dragons. They are WAY cool. I can't wait to read this, I have it on my TBR and your review has made it sound awesome! Definitely bumping it up - thanks!

Giselleco said...

Dude your bog!!! So cool I like the new look chickie! And awesome review
I also have to write my review asap or I forget too much lol. I haven't
looked much into this one but it sunds really awesome. Dragons and all!

Mindful Musings said...

I agree. Dragons are AWESOME! Lol. I'm so glad to hear that you liked Seraphina, because I just found a copy in my mailbox a few days ago. I can't wait to read it!

Brodie said...

Oh, Miss Asher Knight. It wouldn't matter if you'd written this review now or one minute after you finished the book, you well and truly have made me DESPERATE to read Seraphina!! I thought I was excited before... hell, I'm not sure I knew what excitement was until I came to your blog. This. Sounds. Freaking. AWESOME.

"Phina is exactly the kind of girl that leaves me hard-pressed to punch anybody who messed with her." - Aw geez, your entire paragraph abou Phina just had me AWWing and already wanting to reach out and protect her. The dragons also sound FASCINATING. I admit, I've only really read one book where they're part of the main mythology and that was Firelight, but it made me eager to unearth more books with those fiery beasts.

I cannot effing wait to get my hands on a copy - BRILLIANT REVIEW!!

Andrea Modolo said...

I am absolutely loving this book right now! I don't want to put it down, you are so right about Hartman's world building it is amazing, and I love all the characters! Great review!!

Sarah said...

This... Oh, Asher, it sounds AMAZING. I just read Throne of Glass, I'm reading Stormdancer now, and I'm ACHING for more high fantasy in my life. I am SO excited to read this--and I barely gave it a second look before your review. YOUR REVIEW. PERFECTION.

(also, I'm sorry it's take me so long to comment. I've had your review bookmarked so I coudl read properly ♥)